Years ago, when cable television was in its infancy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Russell Baker wrote in TheNew York Times: "We now have 180 channels for material already inadequate for twelve."
According to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, though --and you'd think it would have more important things to do -- the average cable customer watches only 12 to 15 of those channels on a regular basis.
Why, then, if the average consumer isn't watching appreciably more television than when Baker first tried to program his Sony Betamax, are so many online news sites carrying so much of the inanity and "inside baseball" nature of television news?
Earlier this week, for instance, FOXNEWS.com featured a story about FOX's Bill O'Reilly pimping FOX TV's reality show, "Anchorwoman"; and MSNBC.com ran a story that Donald Trump wants to do an episode of "Celebrity Apprentice" with Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan.
Apparently, it's news when Trump just wants to do something.
Pirandello -- party of six? Your table's ready.
A wise journalism professor once told me, "If newspapers had just done their job early on, TV Guide never would have been needed."
Obviously, these sites want to make sure that doesn't happen to them; still, even understanding the nature of the online television-reporting beast, enough already! Especially when the sites equate, at least stylistically, the ridiculous and the sublime.
This past Wednesday, on MSNBC.com -- under a Recommended Stories subhead -- were the following links, in order:
Bush compares Vietnam, Iraq
Is Kate back with William?
Exclusive look inside online jihad
Chopper crash kills 14 GIs
Notice that news of Piers Morgan's bruised ribs after driving (riding, walking?) his Segway off a cliff in Malibu was listed above a story about a helicopter crash that killed 14 soldiers in Iraq.
Speaking of, on NBC's "America's Got Talent," the winner, 42-year- old ventriloquist Terry Fator, said he's on a one-man mission to "bring ventriloquism back into mainstream pop culture."
This quote, which should have been enough to disqualify him from the show, made the MSNBC Web site -- before he even won.
There was that great moment in Paddy Chayefsky's "Network" where Howard Beale goes to the window and screams, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
Nowadays, he wouldn't even have to get up.
(There's a book out about how to become a skinny bitch?)